The Problem With Stephenie Meyer’s Happy Endings & Her No Conflict Approach To Storytelling

If you know what good writing is and aren’t a squealing tween or teenage girl with hearts in her eyes, then maybe you may not want to admit you have read all the books of Stephenie Meyer’s breakout hit the Twilight series and have seen all five movies they’re based on. I’m going to make a confession to all you GFN readers––I have read all the books and have seen all the movies. I might feel a little embarrassed, but I was genuinely curious about the series. I’ll also admit I didn’t find the first film and first book all that bad either.

Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan and Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen from Twilight
Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan and Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen from Twilight

If for some reason you’ve been living in the Ice Age and have not heard of the Twilight series (though I think that’s impossible at this point), the story revolves around teenager Bella Swan who moves to Forks, Washington to live with her father. As Bella tries to adjust to her new life in this seemingly quiet little town, her path collides with the beautiful and very mysterious Edward Cullen. Bella suspects there is something very unusual about Edward and the rest of his “siblings,” who also attend the same high school, and eventually discovers that the Cullen family are in fact vampires. And so begins the star-crossed love affair between Bella and Edward.

Around the time the books and movies were really popular, I was clearly not the target audience for this series. All the teenage angst and dreamy innocence was well behind me. Regardless, I’ve always been a romantic at heart and I can’t refuse a good love story. Well, okay, maybe the Twilight series isn’t the best love story out there. It’s easily not one of the best written ones for a YA series anyway. The further I got into reading the books, the more irritated I became with Bella as a character and Meyer’s ridiculous knack for writing pages and pages of how beautiful Edward was. I get it, Bella. Edward is gorgeous. Can we move on now?!

Stephenie Meyer
Stephenie Meyer

Once I finished reading all four books, I can understand why young teenage girls (and some of their mothers) would love the book series. It has romance and two hunky guys fighting over one self-proclaimed plain Jane girl. The only problem is Stephenie Meyer is a less than above average writer. Not only does she feel the need to constantly remind her readers of how beautiful Edward is (you know, just in case we forgot five DAMN pages ago), but she avoids a good story climax and has everyone living a happily-ever-after. You might be wondering what’s so wrong with a happily-ever-after at the end of a book series, but I’ll explain what’s wrong with her version of happily-ever-after.

In the final book of the series, Breaking Dawn, Meyer builds up this big showdown between the maker of the rules for all vampires living known as the Volturi against the Cullens, who are protecting the miraculous birth of Bella and Edward’s child, who the Volturi believe to be a threat to their kind. When it is explained that Bella and Edward’s daughter is no threat to the Volturi and it’s all a huge misunderstanding, the Volturi walk away and leave the Cullens, and anyone else who allied themselves with the Cullens, alone to live their lives in happy, kumbaya bliss forever and an eternity.

A buildup for a big fight only to have it tossed aside and settled in a matter of seconds is not good storytelling. It’s lazy and unrealistic. Nothing in life is without conflict and no good story can operate without some kind of conflict. Conflict makes a story more interesting and it throws your characters into situations where they have to figure out how to solve it. Maybe it might end without any sacrifices or maybe it won’t. Either way, you want to see how your favorite characters would handle themselves in a dire situation.

Meyer’s penchant for everyone and their mother getting a happy ending is another aspect of her storytelling technique that bothers me. Characters like Jacob should have walked away at the end of Twilight with his heart a little broken over losing Bella to Edward, but happy to still have her as a friend. Instead, Meyer conveniently gives Jacob a new love he can be with and it just so happens to be Bella and Edward’s daughter Reneesme. If you feel a little lost with this plot point and you haven’t read the books or watched the films, just do a quick Google search if you care. This is one particular plot point I didn’t like and I also found downright icky.

The author doesn’t have it in her to let some of her characters walk away with disappointment. Life is full of disappointments and we don’t always get what we want. The fact that Meyer wraps everything up in a nice bow for every, single one of her characters is fake and a forced way to close out a book series.

Saoirse Ronan as Melanie/Wanderer from The Host
Saoirse Ronan as Melanie/Wanderer from The Host

Last week, I watched the movie The Host on Netflix, which is another book turned movie that is written by Stephenie Meyer. I haven’t read the book and I’m not interested in picking it up either. Watching the entire movie gave me a pretty good idea of what I would expect from the book itself. Her favorite storytelling techniques are all there again––anti-climatic showdown with the villain and everyone gets a happily-ever-after when the circumstances point more towards a bittersweet ending for certain characters.

Maybe Meyer prefers to have her mostly female readers indulge in a fantasy world where everything is solved within thirty seconds or less and everyone has someone to love when their first choice isn’t available. I like escaping into a fantasy world just like anybody else who wants a break from real life, but it has to be plausible. Her happy endings are farfetched and far too convenient to feel natural. Her main characters are robbed of having a good fight with the villain. Some of the best stories out there involve a fight between good vs. evil. We want our heroes/heroines to struggle a little bit before they emerge victorious. It builds both strength and character. Such an easy take down of the baddie requiring little to no effort is boring and a waste of time.

JK Rowling is the queen of children's fantasy books done right
JK Rowling is the queen of children’s fantasy books done right

JK Rowling’s Harry Potter reigns supreme when it comes to writing a book series for children that allows them to escape into a fantasy, while also giving them a balance of the good and the bad. The happy and the sad. Everything unfolds in a realistic way that is engaging and hardly ever feels flat. We even get an epic sized showdown between Harry and Lord Voldemort which has been built up since the start of the series. Harry’s victory wouldn’t be so satisfying if Rowling decided to make it extremely easy to kill off Voldemort.

Rowling doesn’t sugar coat life, but she also knows life isn’t always so dreary. This is why when Rowling ended Harry Potter the way she did, the happy ending was natural and less forced. Did everyone have a happy ending? No. Some people died and some were left with both physical and emotional scars that the characters will take with them for the rest of their lives, but that’s exactly how it should be.

Meyer almost seems to imply in her writing and how her characters deal with situations that we should be afraid of conflict. Or that in a perfect world there will never be any conflict. Everyone gets what they want or close to it and are happy. I don’t think this is the best message to put out there for young readers. When you get older, we have to be prepared for life’s hard knocks. Life is rough and you’ll get pushed down many times before you get back up again, but you do eventually get up. When you get up, try again, and then succeed you look back on all those struggles and appreciate where you are now and how you got there.

Stephenie Meyer can keep her candy coated fantasy world where everything is perfect and no one is ever sad. I much rather escape into a fantasy where everything isn’t perfect, but that’s okay. You’ll be just fine. It worked for Harry Potter and he still got his happy ending. It was a rough ride to get to his happy ending, but it was hard earned.

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12 thoughts on “The Problem With Stephenie Meyer’s Happy Endings & Her No Conflict Approach To Storytelling”

  1. Harry Potter is also about a giant misunderstanding. The prophecy behind everything fulfills itself unless Voldemort chooses inaction instead of attacking either Harry or Neville. Theni it is meaningless!

    Using your take on Meyer’s writing, Imagine if Meyer had written it. They’d all assemble at the end of final book, Harry (gorgeous, beautiful, wise, as he is) would carefully explain (as the moonlight sparkles in his luscious auburn hair) how it is a giant misunderstanding. The end.

    I see your point. Now I doubly won’t go near Twilight or The Host!

    1. I never thought about Harry Potter like that before, but you’re right. Everything that happens to Voldemort is his own doing.

      I really don’t want to think about what a train wreck of a series Harry Potter would have been if it was Meyer writing it. Ugh.

  2. Great post simpleek. Good to see you’re still blogging. 🙂 I find auhtors tend to be afraid of sad or bittersweet endings. Maybe because they are afraid people will get upset that the heroes and heroines, who tried so hard ended up with only sorrow or not exactly what they wanted. But I think those kinds of ending are the most interesting. I don’t think Escaflowne or Princess Tutu would have made such an impact if they just went with the default happy ending. Both balance a sense of fulfilment and loss that works so remarkably well. It really does make me wish a few more stories ended on a more gray area in terms of “happily ever after”.

    1. Thanks! Yup, still blogging at my own blog, this site, and another one. Triple duty! 🙂 That’s interesting you would say that. I don’t feel like I’ve encountered too many books where authors are afraid to go a slightly darker or bittersweet route for endings. Meyer is one exception, but for the most part, I’ve read good books where not everything ends exactly how the main character would want it to go or how a reader would expect it to go.

      Endings where it’s not the conventional sunshine and rainbows are definitely the most interesting and compelling. I find that I remember those endings more than the typical ones.

  3. Jacob ending up with Bella’s daughter is disturbing. I did not read the books but I watched the films for fun, to see where I can find some humour, and I agree when you say the ending was anti-climatic. Everything being a vision was just.. meh.

    1. Actually, the handling of that is much worse in the book. There’s maybe one sentence of how Aro sees the vision Alice shows him, but there’s no description of what he saw, only that it would end badly for him if the Volturi decide to take the violent route over the peaceful one. Aro calls off his dogs, apologizes for the big commotion they caused, and leave the entire Cullen clan alone. The movie had to add the action, where the book itself had absolutely none.

  4. I never liked the Twilight series. I forced my way through the first book and got sick of the second book a few pages through. I never really did understand why Meyer’s books were so popular when her stories were so unrealistic and essentially did not give readers any real lessons to take home. I thought while watching the vision portion of the last movie that Meyer had finally redeemed herself by putting actual conflict in, but finding out that “it was all a dream” disappointed me and frankly, I should have expected it.

    1. As I mentioned to the commenter above, the book didn’t even give you any action or conflict. The whole “showdown” was squashed much more quickly than the time it took in the book to assemble everyone for this huge fight that never happened. I kind of understand why the books became as big as they did, but the writing is not at all phenomenal. It didn’t blow me away half as much as reading the Harry Potter series did.

  5. I think that the saddest thing is that Meyer doesn’t know she’s a bad or incompetent writer. Her website is wonderful for its insight into her writing process.

    For the anti-climatic climax of Breaking Dawn she says:

    “I’m not the kind of person who writes a Hamlet ending. If the fight had happened, it would have ended with 90% of the combatants, Cullen and Volturi alike, destroyed. There was simply no other outcome once the fight got started, given the abilities and numbers of the opposing sides. Because I would never finish Bella’s story on such a downer—Everybody dies!—I knew that the real battle would be mental. It was a game of maneuvering, with the champion winning not by destroying the other side, but by being able to walk away. This was another reason I liked the chess metaphor on the cover—it really fit the feel of that final game. I put a clue into the manuscript as well. Alice tore a page from The Merchant of Venice because the end of Breaking Dawn was going to be somewhat similar: bloodshed appears inevitable, doom approaches, and then the power is reversed and the game is won by some clever verbal strategies; no blood is shed, and the romantic pairings all have a happily ever after.”

    Too bad there’s nothing particularly clever about her ending.

    1. I didn’t know she actually explained her thoughts behind writing the scene the way she did in the book. Reading this, it just goes to show that Meyer painted herself into a corner and couldn’t figure out how to best remedy the issue of both the Volturi and Cullens being too powerful (or outnumbered in the Cullen’s case) to have a happy ending without killing everyone. Then again, a few sacrifices would have been far more interesting. And a mental battle? I don’t doubt that it could be done, but Meyer wrote what she originally wanted very poorly.

      I agree with you. Nothing about her ending was particularly smart or groundbreaking. If you’re not a teenager who will easily eat this up and be happy with how it ended, you just feel like you wasted a good amount of your life reading the series until the end. At least I did after I finished Breaking Dawn, one of the most boring books of the series.

  6. I really enjoyed this post. And kudos to you for reading all those books I couldn’t do that. I’ve only seen the first film and a few scenes from the others and the first time I saw Edward “sparkle” I thought I had gone into the wrong movie. Since when do Vampire’s sparkle? Besides that Bella is annoying, so annoying. She always has this sad look on her face. Uggh.

    I can’t remember which Twilight movie it was but there was going to be a battle somewhere near a forest and all these ripped topless guys came out of the forest in their denim jeans and my wife and I just looked at each other and started laughing uncontrollably. lol

    Anyway, nice read, I really enjoyed this post.

    1. Thank you for reading! It was strange to read Meyer’s vampires as not being able to show themselves in sunlight because they “sparkle” and not because they’d burn and turn to ash, like we’re used to from vampire lore. I applaud you for being willing to sit through the first movie with your wife. I know plenty of guys who groan at the word “twilight.”

      Every aspect of the books and movies are pretty ridiculous, like Jacob and his pack constantly running around shirtless. It’s purely for romantic fantasy alone. It’s kind of like a tamed down version of a romance novel, but without the X-rated love scenes.

      I much prefer reading a well-written love story than a mediocre one without a story climax or an ending that actually makes sense.

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